Herb Kelleher, Conflict Resolution, & The Malice In Dallas

Introduction: Herb Kelleher, the charismatic co-founder and visionary spirit of Southwest Airlines, died Jan. 3, at age 87. As a suitable memorial to the CEO whos summarized his hiring philosophy as “If you don’t have a good attitude, we don’t want you, no matter how skilled you are. We can change skill levels through training. We can’t change attitude.” I’m posting “The Malice In Dallas” entry that first appeared in 1HeckOfAGuy.com (a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com) on June 8, 2006.

The Malice In Dallas

In 1992, Stevens Aviation threatened to bring a trademark lawsuit against Southwest Airlines over the use of the motto, “Just Plane Smart.” Instead of a lawsuit and its attendant delays and fees, Stevens Chairman, Kurt Herwald, proposed that, the companies send their top warriors to battle it out, one-on-one, in an arm-wrestling tournament before an audience of their employees and the media. The best two out of three matches would win the rights to the slogan–and the loser of each match would donate five thousand dollars to a charity of the winner’s choice.

Southwest’s reply follows:

Our Chairman [Herb Kelleher] can bench press a quart of Wild Turkey and five packs of cigarettes per day. He is also a fiercesome (sic) competitor, who resorts to kicking, biting, gouging, scratching and hair pulling in order to win. When really pressed, he has also been known to beg, plead, whine and sob piteously. Can your pusillanimous little wimp of a Chairman stand up against the martial valor of our giant?

A video of the event (see below) includes Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher doing sit-ups – with assistance – with the incentive of reaching a cigarette and shots of scotch.

At the contest itself, inevitably named Malice In Dallas, hundreds of Stevens and Southwest workers cheered as Herwald, a burly thirty-seven-year-old weightlifter, sporting a “Born to Raise Capital” tattoo on his right bicep, and Kelleher, a thin, sixty-one-year-old lawyer who was smoking and wearing a sling on his right arm, approached the ring. Oh, and Kelleher’s handler was wearing a bandolier that held airline-portion bottles of Wild Turkey.

Within seconds of leaving his easy chair in his corner, Herb Kelleher lost the match for Southwest. Kurt Herwald of Stevens Aviation, immediately granted the use of “Just Plane Smart” to Southwest Airlines.

When asked if it had all been done for the publicity, Kelleher responded, as he was wheeled out of the arena on his stretcher, “Why, I never even thought about it in those terms.”


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